Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Windows 8 and Skylanders

All my 7 year old son wanted for his birthday was the Skylanders portal for his Xbox. He could barely contain himself in the car on the way home from the store. As we pulled onto the driveway I hung back to answer a call and by the time I entered the house the floor was littered with wrappings and paper, leads and wires and various pieces of equipment. Sighing, I settled into to wait for the inevitable call for help but it never came!

Fascinated, I watched him from a distance while he transferred his limited digital knowledge, failing, persevering and eventually getting the game up and running within twenty minutes. I knew that his motivation to play the game was a powerful driving force, but what I discovered while watching him, was that for him, the “playing” began the moment he opened the box.

My latest “toy” was a Windows 8 tablet that I was asked to pilot at school. Just like my son, I was highly motivated to learn how it worked, but my whole approach was so different. The tablet sat in its box untouched for days while I sent out a request to friends for any useful resources they knew about, and then settled down late at night to watch online tutorials and read up on my new device. When I eventually opened the box the tablet didn’t seem quite so intimidating and I felt confident enough to begin playing. I have to wonder why I didn’t rip open the box like Jack and immerse myself in independently figuring it out.

My best guess would be time. The thought of sitting and “playing” with it seemed like an inefficient use of time to me so I prepared myself in order to avoid unnecessary frustration. After reading the following post by Laurie Barnoski I would assume that many teachers are reluctant to adopt new technologies for the same reason:

I recently emailed a former colleague, a highly respected math teacher, to ask her to list the programs she was supposed to consider implementing in her classroom. Here goes: standards-based grading and instruction; common-core standards; common grading; end-of-course assessment, or EOC; conversation, help, activity, movement, participation, and success, or CHAMPS; creating independence through student-owned strategies, or CRISS; love and logic; pyramid to intervention; response to intervention; learning targets; data walks; teacher-principal evaluation project, or TPEP; school improvement plans, or SIP; academic collaboration time, or ACT; positive behavioral intervention and supports, or PBIS; and a new whisper in the halls, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and PARCC.

There are so many demands placed upon a teacher’s time that we really are in danger of losing the capacity to play and by extension, our sense of joy in the discovery. My own love for learning is what helped me to make the decision to become a professional educator, hoping that I could instill the same passion in my students. I can’t imagine it happening, but if I were to lose that joy, how can I possibly inspire students to learn?

Initiatives like those employed by Eric Sheninger will undoubtedly help his teachers to maintain their desire to learn. By adopting the 80/20 principle teachers at New Milford High School will now be able to follow their work related passions. "We really want teachers to be innovative and creative," Sheninger said. "For us to make that possible, we need to empower them to really pursue those areas that they're motivated by." When teachers are so empowered, wouldn't it seem natural to empower their students in a similar way?

As for me, I am thankful that yet again, my own child has been able to teach me an invaluable lesson. As we settle down in front of the Xbox together to enable him to begin my first lesson on Skylanders, I am grateful to have a teacher who has reminded me of the power of play.

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